Imagine the surprise in unwrapping this year’s Child’s Play remake and finding it to be anything but a failure. Some strong reservations were made among longtime fans of the Chucky franchise and the latest rehash in horror remakes finds the killer doll at the forefront of great expectations. Lars Klevberg directs the new film and not only does he completely reinvent the mythos of the two-foot character, but he also capitalizes on the best (or worst?) parts of children’s marketing and when companionship tech goes awry. It’s not without faulty story tissue and disengaged supporting characters, but this remake creates a surprising revelation in who Chucky could be in a tweaked reality. So is this what one could call an actual remake? And does it do it well?
If you’ve been following Chucky through the franchise, it may be hard to displace yourself from the iconism that came to be the sick, nefarious and chatty horror figure. Without Don Mancini and David Kirschner backing the project for MGM, the absence of franchise influence felt like this would be a sure dumpster fire. Before the franchise switched hands to Universal for the successive films, it all began with MGM for 1988’s Child’s Play. Considering the studio only have rights to that Tom Holland-directed material, it alleviates at least some worry. This remake can’t touch any of the later ideas, but what it can do is take the idea of this character and harvest a whole new origin story. For the most part, it works and it has a hell of a lot to toy with.
Much like the original, it opens up as Karen Barclay (Aubrey Plaza) and her son Andy (Gabriel Batemen) have just moved to Chicago. Andy struggles to acclimate himself to the new city but it’s hard for him to get used to it and mingle. Karen, who works at the local Zed Mart, brings home a returned Buddi doll from work for Andy’s birthday surprise. A popular Kaslan product, the Buddi doll imprints on their young owners, syncing to multiple home products such as thermostats, speakers, drones, Kaslan car pickups and Roomba-like devices. The way these things go, it can only get messier from here. Child’s Play knows it’s a tongue-in-cheek borrowed concept of a killer doll, but it has so much energy and time to develop new character traits for both Andy and Chucky.
Technology has a stronghold on us and through Tyler Burton Smith’s twisted script, we see this blueprint executed as Kaslan Corporation hoisters its prestige in the home tech market. As in the original ‘80s film, product marketing was indirectly an influence. Where that wide-eyed Andy fled to the doll craze, this Andy fights against it. He sighs in disapproval when his mom gifts him a refurbished Buddi doll, expressing he only ever wanted it when the model was trending the year prior. Because Andy’s not welcoming the new city, he gives it a shot and confides in Chucky. He shows him his sketches, plays board games with him and even churns a scare out of his mom’s jerk boyfriend with Chucky’s distorted face antics. Bateman does a lot with his role of Andy, conveying the polarized desperation of a kid not being heard while packing the emotional ammo when it counts against Chucky.
All of the playful bonding between Andy and Chucky are pillar points for good comedy and yet, it’s developing this doll far away from whoever he is in the existing franchise. He’s not the entrapped soul of a serial killer, but the byproduct of a disgruntled factory employee who decided to unhinge all safeguards from his chips. In this reinvention of the story, Chucky is a routine companion who seeks Andy’s approval and wellbeing at all costs. He recognizes when something bothers Andy and this only brings rattling misinterpretations of what endangers their relationship. For this Chucky, slicing people up means Andy gets to feel safe and happy. Is this the loveable trait we’re rolling with? Yes, it is and you’ll find this indulgence almost allowed from a misguided plaything. Used as a prop to fend off authority figures and threats, the idea of a little Buddi having your back is the kind of chaotic good you’d imagine being marketed to kids. It’s a wicked 180 from Holland’s film, but it’s entertaining nonetheless.
Klevberg’s film doesn’t leave a sour taste. Instead, it imparts fun dissection into a revamped character whose hardcore friendship turns sinister. It’s nice to see a remake rely on its new ideas to define itself. It pays little homage to its source but packs a punch of creative freedom in the ways Chucky comes to exist in his own skin. Mark Hamill’s voice acting gives Chucky a new personality under the animatronics. It’s not Brad Dourif but it’s its own little behemoth.
It’s easy to drag a missed opportunity, and there are some if you consider the script and sub decisions, but the way it sides with its intent are only admirable. Where Chucky pursued and terrorized Andy in the original, this new incarnation instead wants to befriend the kid; acting as a shield to Andy as it was programmed to do. It’s closer to the whimsical obsession of children’s toy manufacturing than even its original film. Devoted fans of the franchise (the “Cult of Chucky,” if you will) will find themselves in an uphill battle if they meet Klevberg’s film with absurd reckoning. Child’s Play sees a Chucky in rare form, and by that it entails his significant empathy as a tiny character who’s blindly protecting his best friend. He went wayward in the mix, unbarred from his safety features and armed with astute voice recognition that deceits Andy every time.
Although bold in conception, the film fails to give Plaza anything more to do than be a coasting character. In Holland’s film, Katherine Hicks had some flesh in her role as the mother desperate to find Andy’s innocence and scour the streets for answers with Detective Norris (Chris Sarandon). Plaza, along with Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Mike, are more or less disposable side notes. Seeing Klevberg and Smith’s vision for this Chucky answers as many questions as it poses. Where can a sequel possibly go from here, should MGM take the leap? How does this Chucky’s existence get along with the still-thriving franchise helmed by Mancini and Kirschner? Can the two coexist? Horror fans and Chucky completists will have to wage their bets on that think. For the time being, it’s nice to have two different Chucky’s inhabit our minds and scratch the surface at how two different paths for a character can run wild in the zeitgeist.
#NotMyChucky will have to take a seat because Klevberg’s film offers up some justified reverence. Once marketed as the Good Guys doll who speaks in limited phrases, Klevberg’s film envisions the terror in what could be a realistic premise with a Chucky who can believably enhance through learned communication. That with a high dose of gore kills and you’ve got yourself a close to reality Buddi-gone-wrong that falls more in line with its childish gimmick than voodoo spells ever could. It’s hard to touch the 1988 film, and in many ways this one doesn’t touch its mastery, but it makes its case as a proper remake. A true classic never goes out of style, but Klevberg delightfully reimagines it all together.
Directed by: Lars Klevberg
Cast: Mark Hamill, Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry